The Statue Stays

Removing Joe Paterno's statue would be the easy way out, both for him and the university. It needs to stay.

If it was up to me, Joe Paterno's statue would stay. Heck, I'd build three more and put one in front of the library, one in front of the football building and one in front of Old Main. One for each place most connected to Joe Paterno and his successes and failures. One for each place where people most need to be reminded of what he did and didn't do.

The inscription, however, would be updated. It would be updated to include every last sordid detail of what he did and didn't do during his time at Penn State. Every last detail of how he improved the lives of thousands and ruined the lives of several. Every last detail of how when the weakest among the community needed him to stand up, he stepped back.

Removing the statue, hiding it in a storeroom, melting it down for the metal, removes the most visible reminder there is that when it came to his greatest challenge, Joe Paterno failed. It allows the university to move on. It allows for the memories to fade; it allows the scars to heal.

Some memories shouldn't fade. Some scars shouldn't heal.

I've seen numerous references today to the "moral calculus" involved, to the idea that it's a complicated issue because Paterno did so much for so many, yet so little for so few. It's not complicated. There is no moral calculus. You can be a good man and do bad things; you can be a bad man and do good things. But you cannot fail to use your immense power to stop heinous acts from happening and still be a hero. To imply otherwise is an insult to those who have tried and failed over the years to stop such acts because they didn't wield the power that Paterno had. Who didn't have the biggest megaphone in State College. Who didn't have the ability, with one lousy phone call, to have Jerry Sandusky removed from the population and placed where he is now, where he has belonged for so long.

Yes, Joe Paterno accomplished much, and to argue otherwise is to allow rage to obscure your vision. He was a successful coach who made a positive difference in the lives of many; he was a university icon who raised millions for education while most college football coaches couldn't care less if their players even know what a library is. Those things go in the history books, but so does the dark side. So does the fact that he, more than anybody else at Penn State, had a bully pulpit like no other. That he used his influence in ways that were not acceptable and that he failed to use his influence in ways that were even more unacceptable.

What's most reprehensible is how he tried to spin his way out of the situation by volunteering to retire at the end of the season when word first broke. How he tried to claim it wasn't a football issue. How he lied about his knowledge or lack thereof when asked directly about what he knew and when he knew it. How he perjured himself during a grand jury investigation when he had a chance to finally do the right thing.

And for what? For his legacy? For his statue? Fine. Give him the statue. Let it stand and let it tell the entire truth of what he did and didn't do at Penn State. Don't let it be a tribute to his good acts; let it be a reminder of all his acts, both good and bad. Let it remind everyone who sees it that Paterno, along with other people with great power, failed to use his power to stop this. That the coach who was held up as a model of doing things "the right way" failed to do things the right way. That he was a flawed man who failed. That doesn't make him unique. It also doesn't make him innocent.

There are arguments being made that Sandusky is the real monster, and they carry the truth. But what they also carry is the implication that Paterno somehow didn't have the moral, ethical and legal responsibility to exert every last bit of energy he had to make sure he stopped Sandusky as soon as he found out what was going on. Sandusky will face his day of reckoning and he'll do so in a cold, miserable prison cell. Paterno is being defended as someone who made one mistake in a life otherwise well lived.

Do not allow that line of thought to take root. Do not allow ancillary issues to detract from the real issue. The real issue is not about procedures or policies or what Paterno should or shouldn't have done within those policies and procedures. What he should have done is everything he could possibly do to prevent children from being raped. Strip away all the bombast and the "moral calculus" and all of the other flotsam and the simple fact remains that children were being raped and Paterno could've stopped it.

But he didn't. He failed. And removing the statue allows his failure to fade into the shadows when it should remain under the sun for all to see.

Keep the statue. Update the inscription. And for God's sake, remember.

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